‘Why I hate religion, but love Jesus’

March 14, 2012 | Young Voices
Rachel Bergen | Young Voices Co-Editor

“I hate religion, but love Jesus.” These words come from Jefferson Bethke, a YouTube video speaker and not-for-profit worker living in Tacoma, Wash. His “Why I hate religion, but love Jesus” video has gone viral, attracting the attention of many youths and young adults, Christian and otherwise. Many young people are attracted to the idea of being spiritual, rather than religious; of being autonomous, rather than connected to a specific denomination.

At the very least, some aspects of the video are appealing to Mennonite youths and young adults, although not without some reservations.

For Tamara Dueckman, 23, who attends First United Mennonite Church, Vancouver, the political aspects of the video, including the part where Bethke says, “What if I told you Republican doesn’t automatically mean Christian?”, is disturbing. “It greatly saddens me that right-wing politics has claimed Christianity for their own, because so many things that they represent are directly contrary to Jesus’ message of love, peace and radical equality,” she says.

Bethke goes on to ask, “If Jesus came to your church, would they actually let him in?”

Dueckman believes that not many churches would welcome some of the things she believes are in line with Jesus’ teachings. “For example, I believe in gay marriage, I drink alcohol, I do not think that patriotism is a necessary factor in being a Christian, and I think it is crucial that we love and accept other faiths,” she says, adding, “I probably would be judged quite harshly for some of my beliefs.”

Matthew Wiens, an English student at the University of Saskatchewan who attends both Nutana Park Mennonite Church and Mount Royal Mennonite Church in Saskatoon, agrees with the core message of the video that focuses on love and acceptance, rather than judgment and hate. “That’s a powerful message at its core,” he says. “But I’m not sure about some of the trappings.”

He believes even the title is over-generalizing. “I think his criticisms of organized religion are valid,” Wiens says. “Sometimes people do get caught up in the specifics and miss the point, but I don’t think he can say every organized religion is missing the point.”

Dueckman agrees, saying, “It’s absolutely true that religion has caused so much hurt and pain in the world. However, good has come of it as well. And religion is really about people, so by saying that you hate religion, I am fearful that it could easily lead to a hatred of people.”

These young Mennonites are noticing a trend among youths and young adults to be more spiritual than religious.

Landon Falconer, a Grade 11 student at Saskatchewan’s Rosthern Junior College, says, “More and more I can see a trend that [my peers] are trying not to be classified as religious. They might say that they’re Christian, but they’re not very religious. It’s not the parents necessarily who chose their religion, they want to do their own thing.”

Wiens believes that some people distance themselves from religion, claiming to be “spiritual” as an excuse for a fear of commitment.

According to Dueckman, these defi-nitions of spirituality are often empty and self-centred. “I’ve heard spirituality defined as ‘self-awareness’ and ‘groundedness,’ and to me those are all about the self, and that’s dangerous,” she says. “One of the benefits of religion is that it connects you to a community, something bigger than yourself.”

“Community can accomplish so much more beauty than individual thoughts or actions,” Dueckman says. “Of course, it can cause more harm, too, so there needs to be a great deal of reflection and thoughtfulness.”

Kathy Giesbrecht, associate director of Leadership Ministries at Mennonite Church Manitoba and associate pastor at Home Street Mennonite Church, Winnipeg, has seen a trend among youths and young adults she engages with where they value the community the most. “They highly value shared experience, faith lived within community,” she says. “They are just less aware of denominations.”

To that end, she thinks that the church as a whole can integrate youths and young adults better into the whole life of the church. The church can allow these young people to invigorate it. “When we invite them to also shape us, that will feel like a more authentic and relevant place for them,” she concludes.

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